Daisy Miller


Henry James

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Daisy Miller: Similes 3 key examples

Definition of Simile
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like" or "as," but can also... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often... read full definition
Explanation and Analysis—The Infant Hannibal:

When Winterbourne re-encounters the Miller family in Rome, Randolph tells him that he hates the Italian city. Winterbourne uses a simile in his response to Randolph's fierce opinion, telling him he is "like the infant Hannibal."

Known for his gift for military tactic, Hannibal was a general from Carthage who invaded Italy in 218 B.C.E. Nearly taking Rome, he inspired great fear in Romans. On one level, Winterbourne compares Randolph to Hannibal as a child because of their shared ferocity. The simile is especially clever, however, when the reader notes that Hannibal was Rome's greatest enemy. Randolph is not simply fervent in his opinions—he fervently detests Rome.  

This simile sheds light on how people like Winterbourne view Randolph's American attitudes and manners. The nine-year-old is the only character in the novella who straightforwardly expresses value judgments on the differences between Europe and America. His young age permits him to disregard the standards of discretion and tact that are expected of adults. The combination of his fearlessness and his animosity towards Rome makes him a 19th-century reincarnation of a young Carthaginian general.

Part 1: Les Trois Couronnes
Explanation and Analysis—Daisy the Sylph:

While Winterbourne watches Daisy traipse through a garden at night, the narrator compares Daisy, through Winterbourne's consciousness, to a sylph. This simile underlines Daisy's fantastical spirit.

He found her that evening in the garden, wandering about in the warm starlight like an indolent sylph, and swinging to and fro the largest fan he had ever beheld. It was ten o’clock.

Sylphs are air spirits. They were first introduced by Paracelsus, a Swiss physician and philosopher, in the 16th century. In a posthumously published work on elemental beings, Paracelsus described sylphs as coarser and taller than humans. James's choice to bring in Paracelsus contributes to the Swiss atmosphere of the novella's first part. More importantly, though, it contributes to Daisy's characterization as an airy and uncultured, but also powerful, young woman. Rather than following the rules of the human world, which Winterbourne belongs to, she is guided by her desires.

Winterbourne's vision of Daisy as a Sylph is related to his conviction that she is "light." At one point in the novella, the narrator writes that Winterbourne expects her to "prove a very light young person." At another, Winterbourne tells himself that she is "too light and childish." Winterbourne uses the word with both negative and positive connotations. On the one hand, he finds Daisy uncultured, ignorant, and reckless in her unwillingness to observe social codes. On the other hand, he finds her refreshingly lively, talkative, honest, youthful, and fun. Daisy's characterization as a sylph, an air spirit, is related to this two-sided lightness. 

Just after comparing Daisy to a sylph, the narrator notes the time: ten o'clock. There is something ominous to this observation. Just as Eugenio the courier eventually comes to let Daisy know what time it is, the narrator here alerts the reader to the fact that young women like Daisy have one hour to go before being out and about will compromise their reputation. The proximity of the sylph simile and the mention of the time is not coincidental. Part of what makes Daisy a sylph is that she is free-spirited and hard to pin down. Her disregard for conventions like the 11 o'clock rule is related to Winterbourne's view of her as a confounding yet alluring sylph.

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Part 2: Rome
Explanation and Analysis—Stiff as an Umbrella:

Looking back on the first time they met each other, Daisy uses a simile to describe her initial impression of Winterbourne:

I have noticed you. But I noticed you were as stiff as an umbrella the first time I saw you.

Throughout the narrative, Daisy uses "stiff" to critique the prim, conformist attitudes of the American expatriates around her. For example, she calls Mrs. Walker stiff when she encourages Daisy to get into her carriage. Later, at Mrs. Walker's party, she tells Winterbourne that he is "too stiff" to dance or flirt with.

Daisy is a talkative and animated character, but her speech isn't typically flowery or polished. She prefers expressing her thoughts and feelings with authenticity than with grandiloquence. The umbrella simile, which is not especially rich or sophisticated, captures this side of Daisy's self-expression. Her manner of speaking is more ordinary and direct than that of the polite, polished characters around her. 

Whereas the more European-minded Americans express and present themselves with the aim of emphasizing their propriety, refinement, and tact, Daisy levels critiques at people by comparing them to everyday objects. This shows that she would rather get the point across clearly than show off her intelligence or poetic finesse. 

Through this simile, Daisy expresses her opposition to the prim and proper behavior of the people she has encountered in Switzerland and Italy. They continuously disapprove of her, and she shows that she, in turn, sees through their stilted way of life.

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